In Matthew 25, we read Jesus’ teaching, “I was sick and you took care of me… I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me” (vs.36-39).
Despite this exhortation, many Christians are hesitant to visit people who are in the hospital and care for them. Why? It could be because of a previous negative experience. Or maybe they just aren’t sure what to do when they get there. Indeed, feeling unprepared seems to be one of the major reasons that believers hesitate to visit even their loved ones who are in the hospital.
Practical Advice for Hospital Visitation
On an episode of the Table Podcast, Dr. Darrell Bock sat down with Chaplain Eva Bleeker and Stronghold Ministry Director Joe Fornear and talked about becoming prepared to minister to patients. Out of this conversation came some good, practical advice that you can use today.
Here are just five tips to help you prepare for visiting someone in the hospital.
1. Be there for them
Just showing up and being there for your friend in the hospital is a big deal. It’s OK to be brutally honest when you show up and tell them, “I’m not really sure what to say, but I just wanted to be here for you.” Your mere presence by their side could be a very big deal to them.
2. Let them lead
Some people worry about saying something at the wrong time, even if it’s something positive. But remember that this visit isn’t about you. You’re actually off the hook when it comes to having to say something profound or being in the spotlight. This is all about the patient. So let them lead and direct what happens during your visit. Ask them what they would like your time to look like.
3. Be a good listener
Rather than feeling pressured to give advice or “make it all better,” come in as a listener. Ask open ended questions. Fornear, a former cancer patient, suggests something like, “I know this is horrible. How are you handling this? How are you coping?” or even just, “What it is this like for you?” Listen carefully and openly to their answers. You might find this tells you a lot about their plans, what they’re putting their trust in, and where they are at with God.
4. Respect their pain
Respecting the pain your friend or relative is going through means not saying something like, “I can really relate to you and what you are going through,” if you haven’t actually experienced the same thing. Fornear discovered that, even though he had been a cancer patient, he needed to be more sensitive to the specific types of issues he encountered during hospital visits. He explains:
I once had an experience with a female patient. She was really hurting. She was describing something about the procedure that she had, but it was female-related. And I had lot of really painful things (happen to me). I was just trying to say, “I’ve been there. I’ve had a lot of pain.”
I could tell I really offended her because she was saying, “You haven’t had what I just had,” because it was a female-related procedure she had. Even though I had horrible pains and horrible things they were doing to me, I think it’s wise not to say, “Oh, I can really relate to what you’re experiencing.”
5. Be ready to pray and read scripture
Be ready to read from the Scriptures. Pick out a few verses just in case, but always be sure to ask the person you’re visiting, “Could I read you some Scripture verses that came to mind while I was thinking about you?”
Be ready to pray for them. But, again, be sure to ask. “Can I pray with you? What’s your biggest prayer request right now?” Beyond physical healing, the patient might have a specific request in regards to their care, the medical staff, their family, or something else that is weighing on them.
Although many Christians feel unprepared to visit and care for their friends and relatives who are in the hospital, there are simple things you can do to put yourself in their shoes and be equipped to serve. These five tips are just the beginning of an entire episode on practical advice to help you feel more prepared to visit someone in the hospital.
Watch the entire Episode Practical Advice for Ministering to Patients
About the Contributors
Mikel Del Rosario (ThM, 2016; PhD, 2022) is Associate Professor of Bible and Theology at Moody Bible Institute. While at DTS, he served as project manager for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center, producing and hosting The Table podcast. You can find him online at ApologeticsGuy.com, the Apologetics Guy YouTube channel, and The Apologetics Guy Show podcast.